Carnegie Mellon Hacking Contest Teaches over 18,000 High-Schoolers to Hack

Over the past few weeks starting in late March, over 18,000 middle school and high school students from across the United States have gained a crash course on computer security skills in this year’s picoCTF online hacking contest, hosted by Carnegie Mellon University.

Carnegie Mellon University’s third annual online capture-the-flag (CTF) contest began on March 31, 2017, and ended April 14, lasting a fortnight. Students in grades 6-12 were eligible to participate and win monetary prizes of up to $30,000. Participants saw their security skills honed by a number of training routines that included modules to reverse engineer, break, hack and encrypt challenges presented to them. Critical thinking skills are underlined as the fundamental necessary trait.

The university has claimed that some 30,000 students have taken part in previous editions of the CTF contest and this year, that number has swelled. According to Phys, this year’s contest saw over 18,000 students take part in the online hacking contest.

Marty Carlisle, picoCTF’s technical lead and teaching professor in the university’s Information Networking Institute stated:

I am very impressed by the amount of effort the participants put in and how much they accomplished over two weeks. I’m hoping these students will continue to pursue computer security and that I’ll get a chance to work with some of them here at Carnegie Mellon.

The winning team, codenamed ‘1064CBread’ from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California, will receive a $5,000 cash award. The second-place teams from Naperville North High School in Illinois, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Tech in Virginia and Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland will all receive $2,500 for finishing next in the contest.

Tellingly, the contest is having a positive impact on young minds, which will only serve as much-needed respite for the cybersecurity industry that is seeing an acute shortage of talent.

Anita Johnson, a teacher at Kealing Middle School in Austin, Texas, had thirty-two of her students participate in the contest.

She stated:

I think picoCTF is going to change lives here. It has been a tremendous learning experience for all of us. What surprises and pleases me most is the level of interest from the girls.

Image credit: Wikimedia.